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November 04, 2016

Sixers Mailbag: Where is Simmons going to play with Ilyasova in the fold?

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Another week, another Sixers mailbag. LeBron James and the undefeated Cavs come into town for a game tomorrow, but before that, here are some thoughts on the state of the Sixers. As always, thanks to everyone who asked a question.

Good question, and it’s one that is hard to answer. Here is what Brett Brown said about Ilyasova’s position on Tuesday night.

“He can maybe do some 5 in a pinch because he’s actually big, he’s got wide shoulders and good wingspan,” Brown said. “I look at him exclusively as a stretch-four.”

That makes sense. I haven’t paid strict attention to Ilyasova (not like this guy, at least) throughout his career, but the lack of foot speed probably means he’ll have to play either 4 or 5. Bryan Colangelo mentioned that the team’s roster balance improved with the move, and I’m not sure if I agree. Sure, Ilyasova’s three-point shooting should fit better with the young big guys than Jerami Grant (which is why I understand the move), but the Sixers swapped a 4 for a 4. If anything, they got even bigger.

It sounds like Ben Simmons is coming back at some point, and we all know that he’s going to command playing time. A healthy Simmons would play at least 30 minutes per game, but coming off the injury, let’s conservatively project that he averages 25 MPG at the 4. If at least two of Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel, and Richaun Holmes are active, the 5 is probably off limits. That leaves 23 minutes at the 4, which you would imagine go to Dario Saric. He’s already averaging 28 MPG, by the way. The math is hard even before Ilyasova enters the equation.

The 29-year-old and Simmons should work together offensively, but positions in the NBA are mostly about who you can guard. Even though he’ll function like a point guard offensively, Simmons’ skill set projects to the 4 defensively; there, his quickness is a major plus and he’s a terrific defensive rebounder.

So yeah, I don’t know how the minutes can reasonably work unless either Ilyasova plays a little center (which means some of the young bigs are either injured or traded) or Simmons guards small forwards. There is the potential on-court downside to this deal: Ilyasova should help out the young big guys, but what about the young power forwards once Simmons returns? They’re kind of important, too.

Nope, especially because their record isn’t going to be very good when he returns. Simmons said it himself last week: When he’s ready to play, he’ll play.

You can make the argument that if Noel were playing just 20 minutes per night as the first big off the bench, the Sixers would be 2-2. There is no way they would’ve lost to Orlando when the bench and third-quarter defense was terrible, and having plus rim protection for almost the entire game might have tipped the scales in their favor against OKC.

As far as a reconciliation, things don’t look too great from the outside right now. The Sixers can’t offer Noel an extension anymore, and he already voiced his displeasure with the center logjam. If Noel were to come back, there would still be that playing time crunch everyone talked and speculated about before the season.

But as far as the over-under goes, the temptation is to make it 0.5. I just can’t imagine another team trades for Noel until they see him playing actual basketball, so I’ll set the number at 6.5.

Covington is shooting miserably on decent looks and that can’t continue, but yes, he’s guarding at an extremely high level. It wasn’t always that way either, as RoCo has turned himself into a plus wing defender in just two years. He always had incredibly quick hands, but now he works incredibly hard fighting over screens, too.

“I do know that he’s playing great defense,” Brown said after an 0-6 night against Orlando. “I think that the shots, I’m sticking that they will come.”

It has only been four games. Covington has been brutal offensively, but I’m not too worried yet. He just needs one 4-8 night from beyond the arc to get back on track.

I still think it’s mostly the talent. The high-end talent is young and inexperienced, which isn’t always conducive to closing out games.

If you recall, Brown was excellent in close games his first year in Philly. The Sixers had a point differential of -10.5 and they managed 19 wins. And then as a -10.2 team last year, the Sixers only had 10 wins. As it turned out, Ish Smith Hero Ball wasn’t a formula for success. This is my shocked face.

The Sixers failed down the stretch the other night, but after going back and watching the plays, they missed a lot of makeable shots. And on a few of those trips down the floor, Embiid simply didn’t execute whether it was setting a poor screen, shuffling his feet in the post, or getting too cavalier with his dribble. That’s not a big deal, because he’s still a rookie.

Brown said that he’ll continue to play through in Embiid in those spots, which is the right answer. He might not be drawing up gorgeous ATOs at the level of Doc Rivers or Gregg Popovich, but my guess is that Brown and the Sixers will improve in close games as this season moves along with Embiid in the fold.

That’s an easy one: Embiid. Physical freak and the biggest personality.  He’d be a more popular C.T. 

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann